Erdman v. Victor et al
OPINION AND ORDER re: 80 MOTION to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint filed by Adam Victor. For the reasons stated above, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART, and Defendant's motion to strike is DENIED. For clarity, the defamation claim related to Victor's accusations that Plaintiff committed certain crimes survives, but as related to the Letter is dismissed. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close the motion at Docket No. 80. (Signed by Judge Lorna G. Schofield on 11/17/2021) (vfr)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
20 Civ. 4162 (LGS)
OPINION AND ORDER
LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge:
Pro se Plaintiff Tyler Erdman brings this defamation action against Defendant Adam
Victor. Defendant moves to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) for
failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and, in the alternative, to
strike certain allegations from the Complaint. For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss
is denied in part and granted in part, and the motion to strike is denied.
The following facts are taken from the Complaint and are assumed to be true for
purposes of this motion. See R.M. Bacon, LLC v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 959
F.3d 509, 512 (2d Cir. 2020).
Defendant Adam Victor served as the President of the Board of Manhattan Place
Condominium (“MPC”) for several decades. Plaintiff worked for Victor for several years until
the summer of 2013. In 2014, Plaintiff assisted his then-girlfriend in bringing a lawsuit against
Victor and MPC. Plaintiff, Defendant and MPC then engaged in litigation in state courts in New
York and Delaware.
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Defendant sought to conceal the litigation from the Board of MPC. In 2019, unit owners
at MPC and Board members became aware of the litigation involving Plaintiff. Defendant then
attempted to prevent Plaintiff from speaking with Board members about a possible settlement of
Plaintiff’s lawsuit against MPC.
During the course of the litigation in state court, Defendant made statements accusing
Plaintiff of criminal activity, including theft of documents and computer hacking, extortion and
trespass, among others. Defendant made similar allegations about Plaintiff to the Department of
Justice (“DOJ”), Federal Elections Commission (“FEC”), members of New York Police
Department (“NYPD”) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).
On May 31, 2019, Victor sent a letter to the Unit Owners of MPC (the “Letter”), as a
member of the Board, related to the litigation and other matters. The Letter states, in part:
Additionally, I have been accused of using building funds to defend two lawsuits
against me, my companies, and MPC, by two people -- boyfriend and girlfriend -both falsely claiming to have been “employees” of MPC in 2012-2013. Neither
were ever employees of MPC. MPC was named in these lawsuits as an
extortionate money grab. Nonetheless, while I was President, I have funded 100%
of the costs of defending these lawsuits. Our Independent Audits have shown that,
while I have been President, MPC has never paid any legal fees for these or any
other lawsuits I have been involved in.
“[B]oyfriend and girlfriend” refer to Plaintiff and his former girlfriend, Yevgenia Khatskevich.
Plaintiff alleges that Victor made false statements in the Letter. When the statements were
made, Plaintiff was seeking to settle his litigation with MPC. Plaintiff alleges that the statements
extinguished the possibility of a settlement between Plaintiff and MPC.
On June 17, 2021, Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint was dismissed for failure to state
a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The First Amended Complaint’s allegations focused
primarily on the Letter and statements made by members of the MPC Board. After the dismissal
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of the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff sought leave to replead, which was granted as
unopposed. The Complaint dropped all claims against the MPC Board, repleaded claims against
Victor based on the Letter and added additional allegations against Victor related to Victor’s
communications with government and law enforcement officials.
A. Sufficiency of the Pleading
On a motion to dismiss, a court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and
draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party but does not consider
“conclusory allegations or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.” Dixon v. von
Blanckensee, 994 F.3d 95, 101 (2d Cir. 2021) (internal quotation marks omitted). To withstand a
motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Kaplan v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 999 F.3d
842, 854 (2d Cir. 2021) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; accord Dane v. UnitedHealthcare Ins. Co., 974 F.3d 183, 189
(2d Cir. 2020). It is not enough for a plaintiff to allege facts that are consistent with liability; the
complaint must “nudge [plaintiff’s] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (first alteration in original); accord Bensch v.
Est. of Umar, 2 F.4th 70, 80 (2d Cir. 2021). To survive dismissal, “plaintiffs must provide the
grounds upon which [their] claim rests through factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Rich v. Fox News Network, LLC, 939 F.3d 112, 121 (2d Cir.
2019) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). Further, a pro se litigant’s
papers must be construed “liberally to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Willey v.
Kirkpatrick, 801 F.3d 51, 62 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Greene v.
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Sampson, No. 18 Civ. 6103, 2021 WL 355477, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2021) (internal quotation
Defamation is “the making of a false statement which tends to expose the plaintiff to
public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or induce an evil opinion of [plaintiff] in the
minds of right-thinking persons, and to deprive [plaintiff] of their friendly intercourse in
society.” 3P-733, LLC v. Davis, 135 N.Y.S.3d 27, 29-30 (1st Dep’t 2020) (alterations in
original) (quoting Foster v. Churchill, 665 N.E.2d 153, 157 (N.Y. 1996)). “The elements of a
cause of action to recover damages for defamation are (a) a false statement that tends to expose a
person to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, aversion, or disgrace, (b) published without privilege
or authorization to a third party, (c) amounting to fault as judged by, at a minimum, a negligence
standard, and (d) either causing special harm or constituting defamation per se.” Braunstein v.
Day, 144 N.Y.S.3d 624, 625 (2d Dep’t 2021) (internal quotation marks omitted). “An allegedly
defamatory statement is subject to a qualified privilege when it is fairly made by a person in the
discharge of some public or private duty, legal or moral, or in the conduct of his own affairs, in a
matter where his [or her] interest is concerned.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “To
defeat this qualified privilege, the plaintiff may show either common-law malice, i.e., spite or ill
will, or may show actual malice, i.e., knowledge of falsehood of the statement or reckless
disregard for the truth.” Id. (internal quotation mark omitted).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant made defamatory statements against him in two contexts.
First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant defamed him by falsely claiming that Plaintiff committed
several criminal acts, including perjury, theft of computer files and extortion. These allegations
stem from court filings in previous litigation between Plaintiff and Defendant, complaints and
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informal communications to law enforcement by Defendant about Plaintiff, audio recordings of
Defendant and accusations made to colleagues of Defendant. Second, Plaintiff alleges that the
statements made in the Letter regarding the litigation in state court are defamatory.
Allegations of Criminal Activity
The Complaint sufficiently pleads a claim of defamation based on Defendant’s accusing
Plaintiff of criminal activity. The Complaint alleges that Defendant made numerous statements
to law enforcement agencies and government officials and in court filings, claiming that Plaintiff
committed several criminal acts, including breach of national security, theft of computer files
The Complaint alleges a sufficient claim of defamation per se based on Defendant’s
statements to law enforcement and government officials about Plaintiff’s purported crimes. The
Complaint alleges that Defendant falsely claimed to third parties that Plaintiff committed crimes,
such as theft and harm to national security. Defendant does not argue that these statements were
privileged. Even if Defendant had, the Complaint sufficiently pleads common law and actual
malice by alleging that Defendant acted out of spite and with reckless disregard for the truth.
See Braunstein, 144 N.Y.S.3d at 625 (defining common law malice as “spite or ill will” and
actual malice as “knowledge of falsehood of the statement or reckless disregard for the truth.”
(internal quotation marks omitted). The Complaint alleges that Defendant’s statements were
motivated by Plaintiff’s previous relationship with Khatskevich and Defendant’s obsession with
Khatskevich and by Defendant’s desire to retaliate against Plaintiff for supporting Khatskevich
in her lawsuits against Defendant for harassment and human trafficking. The Complaint
sufficiently alleges fault by claiming that Defendant intentionally made the allegedly defamatory
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The statements accusing Plaintiff of various crimes constitute defamation per se, satisfying
the last element of a defamation claim. Imputing a serious crime to a person constitutes
defamation per se, Knutt v. Metro Int’l, S.A., 938 N.Y.S.2d 134, 137 (2d Dep’t 2012) (citing
Geraci v. Probst, 938 N.E.2d 917, 922 (N.Y. 2010)), including for example, physical assault and
harassment, Martino v. HV News, LLC, 980 N.Y.S.2d 844, 845 (2d Dep’t 2014), bribery,
Liberman v. Gelstein, 605 N.E.2d 344, 436 (N.Y. 1992), and theft, Epifani v. Johnson, 882
N.Y.S.2d 234, 243 (2d Dep’t 2009); O'Diah v. Yogo Oasis, 954 F. Supp. 2d 261, 275 (S.D.N.Y.
2013); see also Geraci, 938 N.E.2d at 923 (holding that accusations of a misdemeanor in violation
of New York General Municipal Law constitute defamation per se). The statements made by
Defendant to various law enforcement agencies and government officials accusing Plaintiff of
breach of national security, theft of files from a computer and extortion impute a serious crime to
Plaintiff and constitute defamation per se. See Liberman, 605 N.E.2d at 348 (citing Restatement
(Second) of Torts §571, cmt. g (Am. L. Inst. 1977) (listing serious crimes that constitute
defamation per se, including, treason, espionage, murder, burglary, larceny, perjury, malicious
mischief and other crimes that involve moral turpitude)).
Statements in the Letter
Plaintiff’s defamation claim based on the statements in the Letter was previously
dismissed, see Erdman v. Victor, No. 20 Civ. 4162, 2021 WL 2481254, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 17,
2021), and the Complaint does not cure any of the deficiencies previously identified. The
defamation claim based on the Letter was dismissed because the portion of the statement
referring to the lawsuit as “an extortionate money grab” is protected opinion, the portion of the
statement related to a false claim is not reasonably susceptible of a defamatory connotation, the
Letter’s statements do not constitute defamation per se and the First Amended Complaint failed
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to allege special damages. Erdman, 2021 WL 2481254, at *3-4. The Complaint does not allege
any new facts to alter those prior findings.
The Complaint’s allegations that the Letter contains accusations of the crimes of perjury
and extortion are factually incorrect. The Complaint alleges that the Letter accused Plaintiff of
perjury by stating that Plaintiff “[f]alsely claimed to be an MPC employee when he made sworn
statements in a proceeding.” The Letter says nothing about sworn statements in a proceeding as
would be necessary for an accusation of perjury, see 18 U.S.C. § 1621; N.Y. Penal Law §
210.15. As to extortion in relation to the Letter, the Complaint does not plead any new facts to
suggest that the reference to Plaintiff’s lawsuit against MPC and Victor as an “extortionate
money grab” is anything other than protected opinion. See Melius v. Glacken, 943 N.Y.S.2d
134, 136 (2d Dep’t 2012) (stating that a reasonable listener would have believed that calling “the
plaintiff an ‘extortionist’ who is seeking ‘to extort money’ was conveying the defendant's
opinion as to the merits of the plaintiff's lawsuit”).
Request to Strike
Defendant’s request to strike certain allegations is denied. “[M]otions to strike material
solely ‘on the ground that the matter is impertinent and immaterial’ are disfavored,” Brown v.
Maxwell, 929 F.3d 41, 51 n.42 (2d Cir. 2019), and “courts should not tamper with the pleadings
unless there is a strong reason for so doing.” Lipsky v. Commonwealth United Corp., 551 F.2d
887, 893 (2d Cir. 1976); accord SEC v. Honig, No. 18 Civ. 8175, 2020 WL 906383, at *5
(S.D.N.Y. Feb. 25, 2020). “In deciding whether to strike a Rule 12(f) motion on the ground that
the matter is impertinent and immaterial, it is settled that the motion will be denied, unless it can
be shown that no evidence in support of the allegation would be admissible.” Lipsky, 551 F.2d at
893; accord Honig, 2020 WL 906383, at *5. Defendant Victor seeks to strike purportedly
scandalous allegations about his conduct at MPC and his felony conviction related to political
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contributions. These allegations are directly related to actual malice and are not impertinent or
immaterial. Defendant also requests to strike paragraph 48 of the Complaint, but the request
relates to paragraph 48 of the original compliant, which is no longer operative. The request to
strike is denied.
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART,
DENIED IN PART, and Defendant’s motion to strike is DENIED. For clarity, the defamation
claim related to Victor’s accusations that Plaintiff committed certain crimes survives, but as
related to the Letter is dismissed. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close the motion
at Docket No. 80.
Dated: November 17, 2021
New York, New York
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